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    • Lower income Sydney students save big with a solar co-op

  • Tenacious university students at Stucco, a low-income student housing cooperative in central Sydney, are setting a precedent for solar energy across Australia and worldwide. Thanks to these driven young people, their multi-unit residence is now running almost entirely on solar power, and boasts the most Enphase storage batteries ever installed in one place.

    In Australia, we have almost boundless access to a massive free energy resource: the sun. We live in the sunniest country on Earth, and 1.6 million households are already making the most of this incredible, cheap power source by using rooftop solar panels and, increasingly, battery storage systems in their homes. However, millions of Australian tenants are getting left behind in the upgrade to clean, renewable energy. Unnecessary red-tape and outdated regulations mean there are still very few systems installed on apartment buildings and residential complexes.

    These students recognised that this wasn’t good enough, so they started a groundbreaking project to install a cutting-edge solar PV and battery system that would provide 80% of the power needs of their 8-unit housing complex. Solar cell technology is cost effective, efficient, and readily available, and battery storage capacity is quickly catching up. All they had to do was install it on a larger scale… or so they thought.

    “Our work will benefit a thousand-odd low income students by providing them with cheaper electricity,” Bjorn Sturmberg, project leader.

    What seemed like a simple enough project at first became a long, arduous process of hoop jumping and negotiations. As we all know, planning permission guidelines, complaints from neighbours, and local government regulations can stand in the way of the most basic new garden fence, let alone innovative pilot projects like the installation of solar and storage at Stucco.

    In this case, the students also had to combat outdated energy legislation that prevents residents from using power without purchasing it from official energy providers via the building management. However, as a housing cooperative, the students collectively manage their residence, presenting a unique opportunity in which the interests of the tenants and the owners are aligned.

    Dr Bjorn Sturmberg and Stucco President Sarah King amongst Stucco's solar panels.

    Eventually, with the assistance of a grant from the City of Sydney, the project was up and running.

    Prior to planning the solar panels and battery system, smart meters were installed in each unit to assess how much energy was needed to run the residence. In the end, 114 solar PV panels and 36 storage batteries were installed, which will produce 30kW of energy - 80% of Stucco’s power needs.

    The smart meters will continue to monitor each unit’s power consumption, and feed that information back to the body corporate, allowing owners to bill tenants according to their consumption. This innovative retailing solution provides cheaper, cleaner power for the tenant, and a steady stream of income to the owners to subsidise the installation and maintenance costs of the solar and storage system.

    “Our work will benefit a thousand-odd low income students by providing them with cheaper electricity,” said Bjorn Sturmberg, the leader of the project, at the launch event for Stucco Solar+Storage. “And then there’s the 40 odd tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions being saved annually, the additional income to the co-operative, and opened pathway for many more apartment blocks to replicate similar systems.”’